University of Adelaide applied mathematicians have extended Einstein's theory of special relativity to work beyond the speed of light.
Einstein's theory holds that nothing could move faster than the speed of light, but Professor Jim Hill and Dr Barry Cox in the University's School of Mathematical Sciences have developed new formulas that allow for travel beyond this limit.
Einstein's theory of special relativity was published in 1905 and explains how motion and speed is always relative to the observer's frame of reference. The theory connects measurements of the same physical incident viewed from these different points in a way that depends on the relative velocity of the two observers.
"Since the introduction of special relativity there has been much speculation as to whether or not it might be possible to travel faster than the speed of light, noting that there is no substantial evidence to suggest that this is presently feasible with any existing transportation mechanisms," said Professor Hill.
"About this time last year, experiments at CERN, the European centre for particle physics in Switzerland, suggested that perhaps neutrinos could be accelerated just a very small amount faster than the speed of light; at this point we started to think about how to deal with the issues from both a mathematical and physical perspective.
"Questions have since been raised over the experimental results but we were already well on our way to successfully formulating a theory of special relativity, applicable to relative velocities in excess of the speed of light.
"Our approach is a natural and logical extension of the Einstein Theory of Special Relativity, and produces anticipated formulae without the need for imaginary numbers or complicated physics."
The research has been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society A in a paper, 'Einstein's special relativity beyond the speed of light'. Their formulas extend special relativity to a situation where the relative velocity can be infinite, and can be used to describe motion at speeds faster than light.
"We are mathematicians, not physicists, so we've approached this problem from a theoretical mathematical perspective," said Dr Cox. "Should it, however, be proven that motion faster than light is possible, then that would be game changing.
"Our paper doesn't try and explain how this could be achieved, just how equations of motion might operate in such regimes."
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney
6 August 2012
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- During the early morning hours of April 15, with a steady breeze blowing down Colorado's Front Range, the state's biggest utility set a U.S. record -- nearly 57% of the electricity being generated was coming from wind power.
As dawn came and the 1.4 million customers in Xcel Energy's service district began turning on the lights, toasters and other appliances, the utility's coal and natural gas-fired power plants ramped up production and brought wind's contribution back closer to its 2012 average of 17%.
Utilities have long been wary of placing too much finicky renewable power on the grid.
"A lot of utilities don't want to contract large amounts of wind because it's volatile," said Amy Grace, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "Anything over 25%, and utilities get nervous."
Colorado's overnight high-water mark demonstrated that utilities can indeed incorporate cleaner power sources into the mix.
It also provides hope that, under the right conditions and policies, wind will be able to provide a significantly larger share of the nation's power than its current 3% rate.
"It certainly can be replicated, as long as you have a robust, diverse grid," said Elizabeth Salerno, head of data and analysis at the American Wind Energy Association. "Other folks have some catching up to do."
According to a wind resources map published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas all have stronger winds.
Xcel credited its record wind rate with advances in technology.
The company recently updated its weather forecasting ability with tools that allow it to more accurately predict the strength and duration of the wind. […]
Monday, June 4, 2012
By Mathew Carr and Catherine Airlie
1 June 2012
New carbon programs in at least 14 emerging nations from China to Costa Rica show emissions trading may take off even as U.S. lawmakers focus on non-market-based regulations for climate protection, a World Bank official said.
Seven countries including Mexico and Indonesia are considering emissions-crediting systems, five mull domestic carbon markets while India and South Africa are studying their own plans, Xueman Wang, team leader for the bank’s Partnership for Market Readiness program, said in an interview.
“Brazil and Chile are leaving all options on the table,” she said May 30 at the Carbon Expo in Cologne, Germany.
Carbon trading rose 11 percent to $176 billion last year, the World Bank said in its annual report on May 30. Besides the European Union program, the world’s biggest by traded volume, developed nations and their states have started or plan at least eight greenhouse-gas markets from California to Japan. EU and United Nations carbon prices last month fell to records on robust supply and muted demand.
Developing and emerging nations including China, whose populations make up more than three-quarters of the world’s 7 billion population, are seeking to protect the climate cost- effectively, Wang said.
Emerging countries are choosing industries such as steel and housing, where emission credits can encourage carbon cuts, lowering the cost of climate protection, said Wang.
“These countries know there is very little demand for the time being,” she said. “Some want to fulfill a domestic climate objective. It’s quite an exciting time.”
Their push is being fueled in part by about $80 million under the bank’s readiness program known as PMR, which began in 2010. Japan this month decided to double its contribution to $15 million, Wang said.
Environmental and public health advocates pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants during a May 24 hearing on a proposal to limit carbon dioxide from new fossil fuel-fired units. Cap-and-trade legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate after narrowly passing the House of Representatives in 2009.
“The U.S. intransigence has not stopped emerging economies from valuing carbon in their own way,” James Cameron, chairman of Bunge Ltd. (BG)’s Climate Change Capital unit, said in an interview May 30. Cameron helped negotiate the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on behalf small-island states.
The other nations considering crediting are Costa Rica, Columbia, Morocco, Chile, Vietnam and Jordan, Wang said. Vietnam is considering handing out credits for reductions in industries including steel and solid waste and also to power users that boost energy efficiency, she said. The nations are moving ahead even as demand for the credits is unclear, she said.
South Korea, Ukraine, Brazil, Chile and China are considering domestic carbon trading, Wang said. South Korea is not part of the PMR. […]
Friday, June 1, 2012
It has been a rough few weeks for the Heartland Institute, the "intellectual" nexus of the fossil fuel-powered machine to disparage climate science in the United States. Nineteen corporations have pulled more than $1 million in expected funding, leading President Joe Bast to ask attendees at the recent Heartland climate denial conference whether they had a "rich uncle" who could help out. Seriously.
In a time when most news about climate change is bad, Heartland's decline has been a rare bright spot. Which has caused many observers to tackle the obvious question: how did this happen? In the reductive rendering of the mainstream media, the narrative has become that Heartland simply overplayed its hand by launching a billboard campaign comparing people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber and Osama Bin Laden, one of the single dumbest PR moves in recent history. Others have gone deeper, pointing out that Heartland has been painting itself into the crazy corner for a long time, and their lies were bound to catch up to them eventually. In that view, Heartland's demise was essentially inevitable.
While both of these narratives have elements of truth -- the billboards were incredibly stupid, and Heartland has been lying for a long time -- neither offer a full explanation because both tend to de-emphasize the crucial role of citizen action. Simply put, the post-billboard exodus of Heartland's corporate donors would have been neither as big nor as fast if not for the actions of thousands of everyday Americans calling those donors to account. Indeed, it might not have happened at all.
For those not following the saga, here is the basic chronology. In February, documents containing a list of Heartland funders were leaked to a number of bloggers by climate scientist Peter Gleick, who risked his professional reputation to expose the sources of Heartland's support. Two days later, Forecast the Facts launched a campaign calling on all corporations to pull out of Heartland, with our initial focus on General Motors. Within a week, more than 20,000 people (including 10,000 GM owners) had signed on. After adding their names to the effort, those citizen-activists then called GM, posted hundreds of comments on GM's Facebook page, uploaded photos of themselves with their GM cars, showed up at events where the GM CEO was speaking and generally made it clear that they were extremely upset about GM's Heartland association. After weeks of pressure, including considerable media coverage, GM pulled their support on March 28th -- more than a month before the now infamous billboards.
Forecast the Facts isn't an established player -- our ability to influence General Motors was not due to our reputation. It was entirely the result of our active members, who organized around an idea and spoke in a louder voice than any single person or institution could.
Because GM's pullout happened before Heartland's Unabomber messaging fiasco (a key story point that most reviews of Heartland's troubles overlook), it offers the clearest demonstration of how citizen activism can impact corporations. There is literally nothing more valuable to a public-facing company like General Motors than their brand. And in the wake of the bailout, GM has a great deal invested in building GM's environmental identity. Exhibit A: The Chevy Volt. 20,000 customers and potential customers pissed off about GM's ties to climate change denial represented a real threat to GM's image makeover. Which is why GM's CEO agreed to review the matter personally, and eventually decided that their twenty-year relationship with Heartland was just not worth the potential brand damage.
In the weeks following GM's announcement, Forecast the Facts staff, together with partners at Greenpeace, contacted the rest of Heartland's corporate donors to ask why they were still supporting climate change denial. In doing so, we made clear that we were speaking on behalf of the 20,000 people who had signed on to the campaign. And our questions sparked a conversation within many of those companies about whether the lobbying that Heartland did for them was worth the risk to their brand. In the case of the insurance industry, an active dialogue began about helping Heartland's insurance program, led by the non climate change-denying Eli Lehrer, to to spin-off, the functional equivalent of defunding Heartland.
Then came the billboards. The companies that had already been thinking about leaving because of the aforementioned public pressure immediately did so. Soon after, 150,000 more people joined the campaign through groups including 350.org, SumOfUs.org, League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. And just as in the case of GM, those everyday people did more than just sign a petition. Thousands posted on company Facebook pages and chipped in to fund billboards calling out remaining Heartland holdouts, hundreds made phone calls to corporate headquarters, and dozens showed up in person to protest Heartland's conference. All of those actions sent a message to Heartland's remaining donors -- there are a lot of people who care about this issue, and your brand is at risk. In response, corporate supporters have continued to scurry for the exits. […]
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
By Katherine Ellison
9 May 2012
Industry giants say their case is misguided. But that isn't stopping a group of high school students from using the legal system to make environmental demands.
Alec Loorz turns 18 at the end of this month. While finishing high school and playing Ultimate Frisbee on weekends, he's also suing the federal government in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The Ventura, California, teen and four other juvenile plaintiffs want government officials to do more to prevent the risks of climate change -- the dangerous storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, and food-supply disruptions that scientists warn will threaten their generation absent a major turnabout in global energy policy. Specifically, the students are demanding that the U.S. government start reducing national emissions of carbon dioxide by at least six percent per year beginning in 2013.
"I think a lot of young people realize that this is an urgent time, and that we're not going to solve this problem just by riding our bikes more," Loorz said in an interview.
The youth -- represented, pro bono, by the Burlingame, California, law firm of former U.S. Republican congressman Paul "Pete" McCloskey, a co-founder of Earth Day -- filed the suit, Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al, in May of last year. Defendants include not only Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson but the heads of the Commerce, Interior, Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture departments. This Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins, an Obama appointee, will hear arguments on the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. […]
The plaintiffs contend that they have standing to sue under the "public trust doctrine," a legal theory that in past years has helped protect waterways and wildlife. It's the reason, for example, that some state government agencies issue licenses to catch fish or shoot deer, particularly when populations are declining. The doctrine has never before been applied to the atmosphere, and it's a trickier prospect, not least because the sources of atmospheric pollution are so diffuse and wide-ranging, extending to other countries whose actions the United States may not be able to influence. […]
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
By Marcia Goodrich
21 May 2012
(Phys.org) – A materials scientist at Michigan Technological University has discovered a chemical reaction that not only eats up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, it also creates something useful. And, by the way, it releases energy.
Making carbon-based products from CO2 is nothing new, but carbon dioxide molecules are so stable that those reactions usually take up a lot of energy. If that energy were to come from fossil fuels, over time the chemical reactions would ultimately result in more carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere—defeating the purpose of a process that could otherwise help mitigate climate change.
Professor Yun Hang Hu’s research team developed a heat-releasing reaction between carbon dioxide and Li3N that forms two chemicals: amorphous carbon nitride (C3N4), a semiconductor; and lithium cyanamide (Li2CN2), a precursor to fertilizers.
“The reaction converts CO2 to a solid material,” said Hu. “That would be good even if it weren’t useful, but it is.”
And how much energy does it release? Plenty. Hu’s team added carbon dioxide to less than a gram of Li3N at 330 degrees Celsius, and the surrounding temperature jumped almost immediately to about 1,000 degrees Celsius, or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit, about the temperature of lava exiting a volcano.
Hu’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation and detailed in the article “Fast and Exothermic Reaction of CO2 and Li3N into C–N-Containing Solid Materials,” authored by Hu and graduate student Yan Huo and published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
23 April 2012
By Julie Ma
Had Willy Wonka had been fascinated by industrial ecology instead of cocoa beans, his factory may have looked something like The Plant, Chicago’s first entirely self-sustaining "vertical farm."
The Plant occupies a former meatpacking plant and slaughterhouse in the Union Stock Yards, transforming a huge brick building that once specialized in bringing red meat to the masses into a green space all about urban farming without waste. The interior looks like something straight out of a scientific-environmental fantasy.
Tenants include aquaponic farms (think vegetables on water beds flourishing under colored UV lights), a tilapia fish farm, beer and Kombucha tea breweries, a mushroom garden, and a host of independent bakers and caterers that will work together in a communal kitchen space. Future plans include living walls and rooftop gardens.
But the most ambitious part of the building is its focus on producing "net-zero waste" in its 93,500-square-foot space. Spent grains from the beer brewery will feed the tilapia. The waste produced by the fish will feed the mushroom garden or be converted nitrates to feed the hydroponic plants. Those plants will clean the water through natural processes and be cycled back into the fish tanks. Taken together, the system will make the building completely self-sustainable. With the help of a few machines, including an anaerobic digester (similar to a waste-eating mechanical "stomach" that produces biogas) and a combined heat and power system, the building hopes to go off the grid within the next four years.
“Industrial ecology—the concept of using other people’s waste as input—is fascinating. In nature, there’s no waste, but there is so much waste in human consumption and development,” says Melanie Hoekstra, The Plant's director of operations. “This is an obvious problem that we can resolve with a building that can do so many things. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s really close.” […]
Sunday, May 6, 2012
By Leon Kaye
20 April 2012
The world’s largest solar thermal plant recently opened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The new plant is almost double the size of what was previously the largest solar thermal facility (located in Denmark), and it will generate enough power to heat water for a university of 40,000 students. GREENTecONE, an Austrian solar design company, supplied the solar panels for the project.
The 388,000 square foot (36,000 square meter) rooftop system is the size of five soccer fields and was built at a cost of $14 million. The solar technology is just one of the many features that will make the new $11.5 billion Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University for Women in Riyadh a showcase for environmental innovation. The project is also a signal that countries in the Middle East, which have become wealthy thanks to fossil fuels, are now planning for post-oil future. […]
Thursday, May 3, 2012
An atmospheric vortex engine (AVE) uses a controlled vortex to capture mechanical energy produced when heat is carried upward by convection in the atmosphere. A tornado-like vortex is produced by admitting warm or humid air tangentially into a circular arena. Tangential entries cause the warm moist air to spin as it rises forming an anchored convective vortex. The work of convection is captured with turbines located at ground level around the periphery of the arena. The heat source can be solar energy, warm water or waste heat.
The vortex engine has the same thermodynamic basis as the proven solar chimney except the physical tube of the solar chimney is replaced with centrifugal force. There is no need for a solar collector - The solar collector is the earth’s surface in its unaltered state.
An AVE power station could have a diameter of 200 m and generate 200 MW of electrical power at a cost as low as $0.03/kWh.
The vortex engine alleviates global warming by reducing fuel required to meet energy needs.
Monday, April 23, 2012
By Rich Miller
19 April 2012
Microsoft is planning a waste-powered data center that will be built on the site of a water treatment plant or landfill, the company said Wednesday. The project will be the first step towards Microsoft’s goal of deploying “data plants” where modular data centers will be powered by renewable energy.
The initiative is part of the company’s long-term strategy to make its cloud computing infrastructure as sustainable and efficient as possible. The first data plant will be powered by biogas, according to Christian Belady, Microsoft’s General Manager of Data Center Services. Belady outlined Microsoft’s concept in a blog post Wednesday on the Global Foundation Services web site.
“Currently, our team is researching the first-ever grid independent fuel cell, data center that is fueled directly from biogas,” Belady wrote. “The experiment is small scale, so we can demonstrate and measure the benefits of it like we did with our ‘data center in a tent project’ in 2008. We are also talking with several municipalities about a public-private partnership to test a prototype.”
That prototype will involve placing modular data centers filled with servers at a water treatment plant or landfill. “Water treatment plants are mission critical installations that produce methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than CO2, as the sewage from our communities are broken down in an anaerobic digestion process (decomposition without oxygen),” Belady explained. “Landfills produce methane in a similar way as our garbage slowly decomposes underground. The methane that is produced by both approaches must be flared, converting it to CO2 to minimize the impact on the environment.”
The methane output will be used in a fuel cell, which in turn will provide electricity for the servers housed in IT PACs (Pre-Assembled Components), Microsoft’s custom modular data centers, which can house up to 2,000 servers apiece. A small 200 kW prototype data center will offset over two million pounds of CO2 emissions per year, according to Microsoft, which is the equivalent of about 300 Honda Civics being taken off the road. […]
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
From The Wall Street Journal, 1 February 2012:
Do you consult your dentist on your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field, and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.
On January 27, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on climate change by the climate science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.
Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming. Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.
The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major National Academies of Science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: the world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Research shows that more than 97 percent of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.
Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Richard Somerville, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University
Rasmus Benestad, PhD, Senior Scientist, The Norwegian Meteorological Institute
Gerald Meehl, PhD, Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Michael Oppenheimer, PhD, Professor of Geosciences; Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University
Peter Gleick, PhD, co-founder and president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
Michael C. MacCracken, PhD, Chief Scientist, Climate Institute, Washington DC
Michael Mann, PhD, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University
Steven Running, PhD, Professor, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana
Robert Corell, PhD, Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; Principal, Global Environment Technology Foundation
Dennis Ojima, PhD, Professor, Senior Research Scientist, and Head of the Dept. of Interior’s Climate Science Center at Colorado State University
Josh Willis, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Matthew England, PhD, Professor, Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia
Ken Caldeira, PhD, Atmospheric Scientist, Dept. of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution
Warren Washington, PhD, Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Terry L. Root, PhD, Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
Jeffrey Kiehl, PhD, Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Donald Wuebbles, PhD, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois
Camille Parmesan, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Texas; Professor of Global Change Biology, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, UK
Simon Donner, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada
Barrett N. Rock, PhD, Professor, Complex Systems Research Center and Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire
David Griggs, PhD, Professor and Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia
Roger N. Jones, PhD, Professor, Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Australia
William L. Chameides, PhD, Dean and Professor, School of the Environment, Duke University
Gary Yohe, PhD, Professor, Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, CT
Robert Watson, PhD, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chair of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Steven Sherwood, PhD, Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Chris Rapley, PhD, Professor of Climate Science, University College London, UK
Joan Kleypas, PhD, Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
James J. McCarthy, PhD, Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University
Stefan Rahmstorf, PhD, Professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany
Julia Cole, PhD, Professor, Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
William H. Schlesinger, PhD, President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
Eric Rignot, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine
Wolfgang Cramer, Professor of Global Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France
Monday, February 6, 2012
I had the opportunity to see Roger Boisjoly speak at M.I.T. back in January 1987. The event got almost no promotion; I found out only because I had friends in the Aero/Astro program (Course 16). The controversy over the Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. “Star Wars”, had been raging for a couple of years, and space tech had become politicized. (Full disclosure: yours truly was in AFROTC.) My impression was that the Boisjoly talk was not entirely approved by the M.I.T. administration.
In any case, the lecture hall was packed. Boisjoly related the events that led to the fatal decision to launch in spite of clear evidence against it. Here’s a summary of that talk: Roger Boisjoly on the Challenger Disaster.
A few moments stand out in my memory. When the VP of engineering said, “We need to take off our Engineering hats and put on our Management hats”; when his friend, at T+60, said, “We just dodged a bullet” and said a prayer of thanks; when Boisjoly hung his head and wept for a little while.
All of this made a big impression on a young electrical engineer, about business ethics, the government, and defense contracting. If faced with a similar ethical test, I always hoped that I’d be as courageous as Boisjoly.
By Howard Berkes
6 February 2012
Roger Boisjoly was a booster rocket engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol in Utah in January, 1986, when he and four colleagues became embroiled in the fatal decision to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Boisjoly was also one of two confidential sources quoted by NPR three weeks later in the first detailed report about the Challenger launch decision, and the stiff resistance by Boisjoly and other Thiokol engineers.
The experience both haunted and inspired Boisjoly in the decades that followed.
We learned this weekend from this story in The New York Times that Boisjoly died last month in Utah at age 73.
Bulky, bald and tall, Boisjoly was an imposing figure, especially when armed with data. He found disturbing the data he reviewed about the booster rockets that would lift Challenger into space. Six months before the Challenger explosion, he predicted "a catastrophe of the highest order" involving "loss of human life" in a memo to managers at Thiokol.
The problem, Boisjoly wrote, was the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets. They tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather and NASA's ambitious shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs with risky temperatures, even in Florida.
On 27 January 1986, the forecast for the next morning at the Kennedy Space Center included a launch-time temperature as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA had never launched in temperatures that cold and Boisjoly and his four colleagues at Thiokol headquarters in Utah concluded it would be too dangerous to launch.
Three weeks later, he told NPR's Daniel Zwerdling in an unrecorded and confidential interview, "I fought like Hell to stop that launch. I'm so torn up inside I can hardly talk about it, even now."
But Boisjoly did talk about it in a hotel room in Alabama, revealing for the first time the details of that effort to keep Challenger on the launch pad. He asked that he not be named but he agreed to be quoted anonymously. As he spoke with Zwerdling, a second engineer revealed the same details to me under the same conditions at his home in Brigham City, Utah.
Boisjoly's family agreed to release him from our pledge of confidentiality so that his efforts to get the truth out can be widely known.
"We all knew what the implication was without actually coming out and saying it," a tearful Boisjoly told Zwerdling in 1986. "We all knew if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up." […]